Chris Rock will host the 88th Oscars, the film academy announced today, returning the comedian to a gig that earned him wildly divided reviews in his one and only turn at the job 11 years ago.
Rock’s second stint as host had been predicted as a strong possibility since the academy hired Reginald Hudlin and David Hill to produce the 2016 show. Hudlin worked with Rock previously, directing the pilot episode of Rock’s TV show “Everybody Hates Chris.” Hudlin also produced the academy’s Governors Awards last year where Rock was on hand to pay tribute to Harry Belafonte.
The academy will hope that Rock can deliver better reviews and, more importantly, higher ratings than last year’s show. The 2015 telecast’s audience dropped nearly 15%, with host Neil Patrick Harris struggling through a sluggishly paced evening. In 2014, the Ellen DeGeneres-hosted show, with its star-studded selfie that temporarily disabled Twitter and other interactive skits and bits, drew an average of nearly 44 million viewers.
Rock’s previous stint as Oscars host produced a wide range of reactions, with USA Today crowning him “one of the worst hosts ever,” while Roger Ebert praised a “home run” opening monologue that was “surprisingly pointed, topical, and not shy of controversy.”
The most notable point of contention came from a running joke about actor Jude Law’s then-ubiquitous presence in Hollywood. “Who is Jude Law?” Rock asked. “Why is he in every movie I have seen in the last four years? Even if he’s not acting in it, if you look at the credits he makes the cupcakes or something.”
Later in the ceremony, Sean Penn, presenting the lead actress Oscar, felt compelled to defend Law. “Forgive my lack of humor,” Penn harumphed. “Jude Law is one of our most talented actors.”
The divisiveness illustrates the no-win nature of the job. The show’s rigid format -- 24 award categories, 24 speeches, 24 opportunities for long-winded winners to be played off the stage -- limits the host’s ability to impact the evening.
“I mean, why not, but I’m surprised,” comedian Sarah Silverman told The Times, talking about Rock’s decision to accept the job. “It’s such a thankless job. Steve Martin did so well that one year. And he told me he had so much fun -- until he made the mistake the next day of looking at what people had to say. It took him years to get over it.”
There is evidence that Rock has honed his skills in the decade since he hosted the Oscars in 2005. Last year, with his critically acclaimed comedy “Top Five” arriving in theaters just as awards were starting to be handed out in earnest, the 50-year-old comedian made the rounds on the trophy dinner circuit.
Rock rarely disappointed during his time on stage, lampooning the season’s empty rituals and rampant self-importance. Hoisting his own prize at the vacuous Hollywood Film Awards, Rock emoted, “All my life I’ve dreamt of getting one of these, like everyone else in the room! I can’t believe this day has come!”
Then there was his Governors Awards appearance, honoring Belafonte. Rock killed it in his brief remarks, giving a shout-out to academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (“It’s nice to see a black president that America still likes”) and, noting Belafonte’s efforts in voter registration during the civil rights era, adding a topical zinger, “Thank God no one’s trying to stop people from voting now!”
Rock also appeared at the National Board of Review dinner in January where he mocked producer Scott Rudin and some of the evening’s self-important speeches.
Said Rock: “They all say: ‘We made something that was more than an animated movie.’ No you ... didn’t. I did ‘Madagascar.’ I cashed a check and got the ... out of there.”
The Rock hiring continues the academy’s recent push toward diversity. Earlier this year, the group invited 322 new members to join, its largest class ever, and the makeup of the newcomers included more than 23% people of color and more than 28% women. The academy also hired a black producer (Hudlin) for its show and will honor Spike Lee at the Governors Awards next month.